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Witchcraft Today [Paperback]

Gerald B. Gardner , Margaret Murray
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: 16.89 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Literary Licensing, LLC (15 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1258175975
  • ISBN-13: 978-1258175979
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 0.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 317,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Landmark publication! 22 Sep 2013
By Lily14
The significance of this book is not in its content as such - nowadays there are thousands of 'how to' books on the subject of Wicca. The books of Gerald Gardner (Witchcraft Today and The Meaning of Witchcraft) were the first on the subject and the start of the modern Pagan tradition. You need to remember that the Witchcraft Act had only recently been repealed when this was published. What Gerald Gardner did in introducing this subject was brave and controversial, but by doing it, he essentially gave birth to modern Paganism as we know it in the UK. Wicca is now a recognised religion which has spread internationally over the last 70 years, and it started here. I found this an utterly fascinating read, which captivated and inspired me to research more.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hard work 25 Sep 2004
By Brighid
This book is very hard going, especially in terms of layout and the writing style of Gerald Gardner. From an historical point of view, it makes very interesting reading on the history of witchcraft throughout the ages, however most of this book's content is extremely vague. There is no step by step instruction, instead the reader is told that there is "something there", but is not told what that actually is. The author explains this away by stating that he was sworn to secrecy by the covens he observed, but this of course is of no use to the reader or student of the Craft. What's the point of writing a non-fiction book about a particular subject and then saying you can't actually disclose anything about it??
In summary, I found the historical information provided here interesting, but if you want to learn the actual ways of witchcraft and Wicca, look elsewhere.
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5.0 out of 5 stars pagan 17 Dec 2013
By ferrets
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
cant wait to read this book, been waiting for ages for something like this, the next best thing is pagan ways which i read over and over again.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Slightly opening the robe 18 July 2004
By F. Presson - Published on Amazon.com
I really need to be able to give this book two different ratings depending on the orientation of the reader. As a historical document regarding the history of Wicca in particular and Neopaganism in general, it should be on every bookshelf. As a source of insight into the actual practice, it is, by necessity, as others have pointed out, incomplete. I should mention that, as a Pagan, but not Wiccan, occultist with a keen amateur interest in the history of the Pagan and occult revivals, my own point of view partakes of both.

I found it fascinating to watch Gardner (GBG) alternate between the etic viewpoint of an anthropologist, describing the coven from an outsider's view, and the emic viewpoint of an initiate, the latter view often introduced by the phrase, "when I was inside." When he describes ritual, or places certain customs in context by reference to their effect on magick, he does not generally cite his own experience, but refers to "the Witches" as if he were not one. I suppose he is trying to project an image of objective scholarship, but it comes off more as coyness or ingenuousness to my eyes.

If you're an initiate of Trad Witchcraft, you already know much more than what GBG reveals here, and if you are not, you'll have to just respect the fact that he seems to have honored his oaths and not told any important secrets other than that the revived Craft existed (and, yes, according to the Ardanes, that is a protected secret), which I have to suppose was his intent, in which he succeeded, probably beyond his wildest imaginings.

My own current _theory_, based on extensive but by no means complete readings of the available material, is that GBG did indeed meet people who were practicing the Craft in what they thought was an ancient form, based on the available materials (which have since been cast into considerable doubt by scholars), and at some point he needed to decide between following and elaborating on Witchcraft or pursuing his previous project of reviving the O.T.O. in Britain. He obviously chose the former, and presided over the public launching of a creative and influential current in the Pagan and occult revivals.
22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The foundation that Wicca is built upon. 11 Jun 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
"Witchcraft Today" is Gardner's 4th book & his1st non-fiction book dealing specifically with Wicca. First publishedin 1953 it supports Margaret Murray's theory that witchcraft was a pre-Christian pagan religion in Britain. It then takes the theory one step farther as Gardner makes claim to having found & joined a coven of witches whom he believed to be the last remnants of this old religion. Sworn to secrecy, Gardner finds himself in the difficult position of wanting to explain the details without breaking his oath. The end result is rather disappointing. While this is indeed the 1st book on Wicca & has become the founding text for most Wiccans, the book actually contains very little Wiccan material. Those seeking actual Wiccan rituals described in detail must look elsewhere. Gardner omits any such step by step instructions & gives us only tantalizing hints, glimpses & references instead. Critics like Aidan Kelly often claim this is because Gardner was making up the material as he went & at this point much of the material had yet to be written. Other, more friendly, critics like Doreen Valiente say Gardener's vagueness comes from his vow of secrecy & is evidence that he truly did discover a pre-existing coven. They argue that if Gardner did fabricate the whole thing himself he would have publicized the material as much as possible & his hesitation shows that the material wasn't his to freely disperse. Either way, the book remains required reading to most Wiccans today & is an interesting study of pagan ideas through time & space. Like his predecessor, Margaret Murray, Gardner tries to show that "the old religion" is indeed old, possibly even an echo of pre-Christian druidic beliefs. He seeks for evidence of the cult in all time periods from the Neolithic to modern England. Not only does he scour the whole of time but he also circles the globe, pulling in hints & traces from nearly every continent in his desire to show that Wicca is a continuation of ancient pagan religious ideas. Whether or not you believe Gardner's claim, it's clear that "Witchcraft Today" is the catalyst that touched off the Wiccan movement that has grown to dominate the modern pagan community.
47 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dabbling Mundanes Need Not Apply! 5 April 2002
By "shera345" - Published on Amazon.com
These days it seems the fashion to be a dabbler in the occult. People who are followers of the fashion, and not the religion, need not waste their money on anything by Gardner. If you want to don your "mystical" robe, flap your hands and recite "all-powerful" spells and incantations, *please* do NOT buy this book. There are too many serious students out there who need it more than you. You would do much better to buy a book of spells that has a really "cool" cover that your friends can Oooh and Ahhh over while you whisper that you're a *Witch*.
Meanwhile, if you are a serious student of the Craft, this book is for you. Many people say that it's a let-down because it doesn't spell out the how-to's of Wiccan ritual, or that its best quality is its historical importance. Yes, that's all true. It's also true that Gardner had a rather dry (if intriguing) writing style. However, better than giving the ABCs of writing a spell or ritual, GBG gives you an *understanding* of Witchcraft. This book makes you flex your gray matter and actually *think* about Witchcraft as more than just a Hollywood stereotype. There is a reason "Witchcraft Today" is on almost every recommended reading list for Groves and Covens: it is fundamental preparation for insights yet to come...
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic for the pagan bookshelf 7 Sep 2008
By O. Long - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm not going to speak ill of Mr Gardener, I know better. At a time when coming out of the broom closet was social suicide he went and wrote the primer for paganism. I don't agree with everything he writes, but the book is one all pagans/wiccans should read, if only to be familiar with his work. I should also mention it's easy to read, and at times hard to put down.
22 of 31 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An untenable fantasy. . . . 8 Nov 2005
By simone - Published on Amazon.com
In his classic 1954 work _Witchcraft Today_, Gerald Gardner constructed an intricate theory for the origin of the ancient witch-cult whose rituals, he claimed, he had been invited to witness and report on. According to Gardner, these British witches were carrying on a tradition handed down to them by their parents and grandparents, practices originating far back in the mists of time. Since he did not disclose identifying details about who or where these witches were, meaning that nothing of them can be verified, it is impossible to tell if he had truly penetrated an ancient, secretive cult, or if the story he told was nothing more than an elaborate fantasy. Claiming that the witches themselves did not know their origins, Gardner weaves together a rather incredible explanation on their behalf: Witches, he said, were the descendants of an aboriginal British race driven into hiding for their continuing practice of their indigenous religion, magic. What's more, this aboriginal race was actually a pygmy race which, when driven into hiding, gave rise to legends of "little people," faeries, pixies, elves, and other magical folk, who even though eventually intermarrying with the larger population, still retained their magical ways.

There are a number of problems with this explanation. First, there is the historical problem. Gardner identifies the Picts, a non-Celtic people of Britain inhabiting the northern area of Britain (modern Scotland) from pre-Roman times, and which by 900 A.D. had disappeared, as the aboriginal pygymy race from which the witches derive their traditions. According to him, "they were much the same as the present-day pygmies of Africa, small people bullied by their bigger neighbours and driven out of the best lands into the hills and woods and other inaccessible places. They raid cultivated fields and play pranks, but if their thefts are forgiven and food is sometimes left out for them, they will, in return, leave gifts of their hunting spoils, meat, ivory and skins" (p. 56). Additionally, he finds a linguistic link in the English word pixie and the Roman name for these peoples, the Picti.

It all sounds good at first, but it doesn't hold water. First off, none of the sources contemporary to the Picts describe them as being pygmies! Roman accounts of the invasion and conquest of Britain and her native peoples make no mention of the Picts' unusual size, nor do the Anglo-Saxons some five hundred years later. Bede, historian of the English people, writing in the seventh century, when the Picts were still known, does not describe them thus; in fact, it is not until the fifteenth century, five hundred years after they had ceased to be known as a separate people, that anyone describes them as being little: the Bishop of the Orkneys says of them that they "were only a little exceeding pygmies on stature and worked wonderfully in the construction of their cities evening and morning, but at midday they hid themselves in little underground houses, fearing light."

Further, there is a lack of archeological evidence to support the idea that the Picts were little people. No skeletons, no systematic ruins, nothing. The totality of Gardner's archeological evidence for the Picts' pygmy nature rests on a handful of inexplicably cramped cells. Given the fevered pitch of the medieval imagination, it's likely that it was just this sort of random cell which gave rise to the original suspicion of the ancient peoples' being pygmies.

But what happened to the Picts? The same thing that happened to every other native population: They intermarried with the invaders and formed a new stock of people. It isn't as interesting as the theory that they hid themselves for a few hundred years, but it is, unfortunately for romantics, standard operating procedure in the world of conquest and invasion. Another cultural habit kicks in here too: The memory of the "savage Picts" slowly transformed into folklore about an unnatural people to be feared, folklore with which to frighten children into being good and which bonded its tellers together against an unknown "other." And it is this folklore which Gardner relies on as proof of the continued existence of the Picts as mysterious, magical "little people" feared by "civilized society." All societies participate in this demonization of the other; its processes are too familiar to be taken seriously as a record of actual events.

So, if not the survival of the practices of an ancient pixie-folk, what was Gardner's witch-cult? Probably not what he made it out to be. Did countryfolk of Gardner's day practice folk magic? Certainly, and one hopes customs of the sort will not be lost to modernization. Did they learn the custom from their parents and grandparents? Certainly. Was it the watered-down memory of ancient pagan practices? Absolutely. Were its practitioners voluble about the sorts of folk magic they knew? Most likely not, but not out of fear of Christian persecution--it is more likely that it was the magic itself they feared. But none of this adds up to the sort of cult Gardner describes, a more or less organized group practicing an elaborate ritual which reenacts a central myth remembered from pre-Christian times.

The cult he describes, in fact, sounds suspiciously like the product of the theories current in Gardner's Victorian/Edwardian youth. Remember that science, particularly Darwin's theory of evolution, and archaeology, particularly the recent discovery of the Epic of Gilgamesh, with a Flood account which predated the account in Genesis, had effectively made belief in the Bible as a literal account of history difficult for educated people. Add to this the Romantic movement of the nineteenth century, with its concepts of the noble savage and the divinity of nature, and Gardner's proffered witch-cult becomes less plausible and more obviously the fruit of common nineteenth-century fancies. His witch-cult was a "purer" religion, one bequeathed to us by nobler ancestors, carried on in secret, and tuned in to nature, one to replace the discarded Christian religion. It was, in short, the perfect religion for its time.
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